Quick responses to stroke

For every story about a remarkable recovery from a stroke, there are dozens of sad tales.

Lives that are never the same or are lost altogether.

Although not as deadly as 15 or 20 years ago, mostly because of the advancements in treatment, these "brain attacks" are still the third leading cause of death in the nation.

The Jacksonville, Fla., Daily News points out that some of the best prevention is knowledge.

What happens is that blood vessels inside the brain become blocked or burst, causing the cells in the affected part of the brain to quickly die. The longer life-saving treatment is delayed, the more cells that can die.

Those brain cells often control critical parts of everything from speech to vision to memory.

Once they are gone, the brain might have to be retrained to learn seemingly simple skills over again.

There are certain risk factors, but stroke does not respect age, clout or social standing.

Atherosclerosis is a common contributor for ischemic strokes, which are the most common and most treatable. High blood pressure is often behind hemorrhagic strokes, in which a blood vessel bursts and causes bleeding into the skull, often with fatal results.

Some risk factors are beyond control: Gender and race, specifically, with men being more likely to fall victim to stroke and African-Americans at greater risk than Caucasians.

High cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, heavy alcohol use, smoking or lack of exercise are some of the things that can be controlled.

Most important is to recognize the warning signs in yourself and others: Sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body; sudden and severe headache; sudden problems walking or with balance; sudden confusion, changes in vision, difficulty swallowing or inability to understand others.

Don’t dismiss these warning signs just because they seem to go away, either. "Mini-strokes," technically transient ischemic attacks, can forewarn of impending stroke.

In others, think "FAST": Face, arms, speech and time. Does one side of a person’s mouth droop during a smile? If the person raises both arms, does one fall to the side? Are words slurred or does the person have problems repeating a simple sentence?

This year, about 795,000 people will suffer a stroke; 140,000 will die. The effects can be disheartening and long-lasting for those who survive. By sharing the realities of what a stroke can do, perhaps we can advance the message of and necessity for prevention and awareness.